Cult Leader Victor Arden Barnard Charged With Child Sex Abuse

Washington authorities put out a statewide alert Wednesday for a cult leader facing dozens of charges in the alleged sexual abuse of young girls in Minnesota.

After a two-year investigation, Victor Arden Barnard, 52, was charged last week with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct during his time as leader of the River Road Fellowship near Finlayson, Minn. Each of the counts carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $40,000 fine.

Barnard is believed to have been living most recently in the Spokane, Wash., area, Lt. Shane Nelson of the Washington State Patrol said Wednesday.

According to a criminal complaint obtained Wednesday by NBC News, Barnard left the church and moved to Washington sometime around 2012 when the fellowship splintered over allegations that he was having affairs with married women.

Image: Victor Barnard
Victor Arden Barnard, 52, is charged with 59 counts of sexual misconduct with children in Minnesota over 12 years beginning around 2000. Washington State Patrol

He may have gathered a new group of followers around him in Washington, according to the complaint, which was filed in Minnesota's 10th District Court in Pine County in support of an arrest warrant.

In the complaint, Minnesota prosecutors called Barnard a "master manipulator" who persuaded church members to let their daughters, some as young as 12, live apart from them to fulfill what he preached was their biblical obligation to have sex with him.

The girls, who lived in a group called "Alamoth," were required to be virgins when they were "invited" by Barnard and were to remain unmarried, according to the affidavit, which NBC News is not reproducing because of its explicit nature and because the alleged victims were minors.

The affidavit focuses on two unnamed girls, who are now adults but who were 12 and 13 at the time they say Barnard assaulted them.

They told detectives that Barnard preached that he "represented Christ in the flesh" and that because Jesus "had Mary Magdalene and other women who followed him," it was normal for Barnard to have sex with them.

Barnard would tell them "it was in God's Word," according to the affidavit.

The girls treated Barnard — who often dressed in biblical robes — "like a rock star" as he repeatedly engaged with sexual intercourse with them over a period of about 12 years beginning around 2000, prosecutors said in the affidavit.

It also says that Barnard's control over his followers was so strong that investigators have had trouble getting church members to cooperate.

The mother of one of the two girls cited in the complaint even talked her husband out of removing their daughter from Barnard's inner circle when she learned of his abuse, the affidavit says.